My Bought Virgin Wife

By: Caitlin Crews

CHAPTER ONE


Imogen


IN THE MORNING I was to marry a monster.

It did not matter what I wanted. It certainly did not matter what I felt. I was the youngest daughter of Dermot Fitzalan, bound in duty to my father’s wishes as women in my family had been forever.

I had always known my fate.

But it turned out I was less resigned to it than I’d anticipated when I was younger and far more silly. And when my wedding had not loomed before me, beckoning like some kind of inevitable virus that nothing could keep at bay.

There were no home remedies for my father’s wishes.

“You cannot let Father see you in this state, Imogen,” my half sister, Celeste, told me briskly as she swept in. “It will only make things worse for you.”

I knew she was right. The unfortunate truth was that Celeste was usually right about everything. Elegant, graceful Celeste, who had submitted to her duty with a smile on her face and every appearance of quiet joy. Stunning, universally adored Celeste, who had the willowy blond looks of her late mother and to whom I had forever been compared—and found lacking. My own lost mother had been a titian-haired bombshell, pale of skin and mysteriously emerald of eye, but I resembled her only in the way a fractured reflection, beheld through a mist, might. Next to my half sister, I had always felt like the Fitzalan troll, better suited to a life beneath a bridge somewhere than the grand society life I’d been bred and trained for.

The life Celeste took to with such ease.

Even today, the day before my wedding when theoretically I would be the one looked at, Celeste looked poised and chic in her simple yet elegantly cut clothes. Her pale blond hair was twisted back into an effortless chignon and she’d applied only the faintest hint of cosmetics to enhance her eyes and dramatic cheekbones. While I had yet to change out of my pajamas though it was midday already and I knew without having to look that my curls were in their usual state of disarray.

All of these things seemed filled with more portent than usual, because the monster I was set to marry in the morning had wanted her first.

And likely still wanted her, everyone had whispered.

They had even whispered it to me, and it had surprised me how much it had stung. Because I knew better. My marriage wasn’t romantic. I wasn’t being chosen by anyone—I was the remaining Fitzalan heiress. My inheritance made me an attractive prospect no matter how irrepressible my hair might have been or how often I disappointed my father with my inability to enhance a room with my decorative presence. I was more likely to draw attention for the wrong reasons.

My laugh was too loud and always inappropriate. My clothes were always slightly askew. I preferred books to carefully vetted social occasions where I was expected to play at hostessing duties. And I had never convinced anyone that I was more fascinated by their interests than my own.

It was lucky, then, that my marriage was about convenience—my father’s, not mine. I had never expected anything like a fairy tale.

“Fairy tales are for other families,” my severe grandmother had always told us, slamming her marble-edged cane against the hard floors of this sprawling house in the French countryside, where, the story went, our family had been in residence in one form or another since sometime in the twelfth century. “Fitzalans have a higher purpose.”

As a child, I’d imagined Celeste and me dressed in armor, riding out to gauzy battles beneath old standards, then slaying a dragon or two before our supper. That had seemed like the kind of higher purpose I could get behind. It had taken the austere Austrian nuns years to teach me that dragon slaying was not the primary occupation of girls from excruciatingly well-blooded old families who were sent away to be educated in remote convents. Special girls with impeccable pedigrees and ambitious fathers had a far different role to fill.

Girls like me, who had never been asked what they might like to do with their lives, because it had all been plotted out already without their input.

The word pawn was never used. I had always seen this as a shocking oversight—another opinion of mine that no one had ever solicited and no one wanted to hear.

“You must find purpose and peace in duty, Imogen,” Mother Superior had told me, time and again, when I would find myself red-eyed and furious, gritting out another decade of the rosary to atone for my sins. Pride and unnatural self-regard chief among them. “You must cast aside these doubts and trust that those with your best interests at heart have made certain all is as it should be.”